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April 11, 2023

Equitable Health Care: A Conversation with Dean Christopher King

By Ben Resnicoff (C‘25)

On April 4, our Conversations in Health: Global to Local class had the amazing opportunity to meet and discuss with our final speaker of the semester, Dean Christopher J. King. As inaugural dean of the Georgetown University School of Health, King manages and oversees the school’s graduate and undergraduate programs, helping to guide the education of the next generation of health care professionals. He is also an associate professor and contributes to research and scholarship on the creation of equitable systems of care in the United States. In our all-too-brief hour-and-a-half conversation, we learned firsthand about King’s path and inspiration in life, and how he came to such a prominent and influential position here on campus. More importantly, however, we learned about the social determinants of health, and how a significant component of quality health care takes place far outside a hospital’s doors.

King began by telling us about his background. He was born in Washington, DC, and completed his undergraduate degree in school and community health education at East Carolina University. While pursuing an M.S. in health science at Towson University, he was contacted by a recruiter from the Washington, DC, metropolitan area looking for educated, qualified teachers. Unsure whether to finish his degree or start working, he did what any young college student would do: he followed the money! Taking the $30,000 salary, he began teaching, and it wasn’t long before a hospital reached out to him to work full time. This job, King told us, propelled him in his career. He was tasked with developing efficient employee orientation programs, and through this experience he learned the ins and outs of successful organizational leadership. Due to his exceptional work, he was promoted to director of Greater Baden Medical Services, a Federally Qualified Health Center that provides primary care to patients regardless of citizenship status. Here, however, King was faced with a problem: he wasn’t seeing much advancement in the health of minority populations in Washington, DC. He needed to find a solution.

Deciding to think more progressively, King partnered with a blue-collar member of the community, a Mexican grocery store owner, whose influence helped overcome the stigma surrounding systemic medical practice in the community. This partnership was humbling and influential in King’s career, as he realized he had to co-create with communities themselves to increase the success of his interventions. He also realized that many factors outside his hospital’s doors played a crucial role in his patients’ health and preventing readmissions. For example, if a patient with food insecurity needed to ingest their medicine with food, a vital part of their prescription must include food itself. In this way, he found that simply treating patients within the hospital itself was insufficient. At a new job as a strategist for MedStar, King introduced the idea of “social determinants of health,” trying to get at the root cause for health disparities within different populations and communities. By considering the socioeconomic needs of patients beyond the hospital, he was able to address and greatly reduce readmissions for at-risk populations. He thought outside of medicine and realized the vital difference between medical care and health care. Real health care, he told us, is holistic.

In thinking about systemic racism as a root cause for health disparities, King realized his purpose. He was able to use his influence to spark conversation in meaningful ways that made change. His background in leadership and administration helped him in this goal, and considering the integration of new societal developments into health care was also a factor. As the dean of Georgetown’s School of Health, King continues his journey to creating more equitable health care for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexuality, or age. An indescribable amount of work is left to be done, he informed us, but nonprofit organizations like Food and Friends give him hope and optimism for the future. At the end of the day, giving the youth access to high quality, holistic education is the key to reducing inequities, thereby helping to rid society of health care disparities. King currently utilizes his position to accomplish just that, creating real, tangible change for future health care professionals that will have a generational impact.

Ben Resnicoff (C‘25) is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University studying government and economics. He is a student in the Conversations in Health: Global to Local class.